4-H is the primary youth development and outreach program of the University of Georgia (UGA). Its purpose is to assist youth in gaining knowledge, developing life skills, and forming attitudes that will shape
them into independent, productive, and contributing members of society. This mission is accomplished through "hands-on" learning
experiences focused on citizenship, communication, leadership, agriculture, environment, and family and consumer sciences. The four "H's" stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.
1904 George Claude Adams, the Newton County school superintendent, created a "Corn Club" to engage youth in new farming technologies and interest them in crops other
than cotton. Out of this organization grew more clubs, including corn, chicken, and cotton clubs for boys and tomato, garden, and canning clubs for girls. Similar clubs began springing up in other states; Georgia was one of the first to use
a three-leaf clover as a symbol for "Head, Heart, and Hands." A fourth leaf was soon added, which stood at first for "Hustle"
and later for "Health." The 1914 Smith-Lever Act, which created cooperative extension services at land-grant universities,
established the UGA Cooperative Extension Service and designated 4-H as its youth program.
4-H'ers learned and competed through "demonstrations," during which they gave presentations on their projects and displayed
the results. As the club spread to include youth in urban areas, it added projects to meet new interests, including fashion,
engineering, and food and nutrition. County-level winners headed to district competitions, and district winners competed at
the State 4-H Congress.
4-H was racially segregated until 1967. Until that time, the African American 4-H organization, based at Savannah State College (later Savannah State University), held state events at the Dublin 4-H center. In 1967 the black extension staff was transferred from Savannah State to Fort Valley State College (later Fort Valley State University). Today Fort Valley State University and the University of Georgia in Athens conduct 4-H programs. At the time of integration, African American 4-H'ers made up about one-third of the club's membership;
today, 48 percent of 4-H members are minorities.
In 1979 the Georgia 4-H developed an Environmental Education Program at the Rock Eagle 4-H center in Eatonton. The two-part, nonprofit program uses the outdoors as a dynamic living laboratory for academic study and consists of a day-use
component for children in prekindergarten through second grade, and a larger residential program for grades three through
eight. In 1989 a natural history museum was built at the Rock Eagle center. Since the program's inception, it has expanded
to three other 4-H centers at Jekyll Island, Tybee Island, and Dahlonega.
Georgia 4-H Today
2005 Georgia 4-H had nearly 198,000 members in grades five through twelve. The club is partnered with the public school system and is open to any person regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, or disability. The organization now sponsors
more than fifty 4-H programs including computers, photography, ocean ecology, livestock judging, horse shows, consumer judging, and the traveling performance group Clovers and Company.
The five 4-H centers around the state host events and summer camps. Rock Eagle in Eatonton is the largest 4-H center in the
nation. The Tybee Island and Jekyll Island 4-H centers are located on the coast, Wahsega 4-H center is north of Dahlonega,
and Fortson 4-H center is south of Atlanta in Hampton. The Environmental Education Program has grown into the largest in the nation, serving more than 35,000 students
4-H clubs are active in every county in the state. There are no dues or uniforms. Officers are elected on the club, county,
district, and state levels. The 4-H pledge is: "I pledge: my head to clearer thinking; my heart to greater loyalty; my hands
to larger service; my health to better living; for my club, my community, my country and my world." The 4-H motto is "To make
the best better," and the 4-H slogan is "Learn by doing." From its beginning as a group that encouraged the development of
agricultural skills, 4-H has grown into a complex organization providing education in a variety of areas dedicated to the
betterment of Georgia's youth.
Georgia 4-H Club Project Award Guidebook (Athens: Agricultural Extension Service, College of Agriculture, University of Georgia, periodical).
Gerald A. Liberman, Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as the Integrating Context for Learning (San Diego, Calif.: State Education and Environment Roundtable, 1998).
Jessica McGahee, University of Georgia
Diane L. Davies, University of Georgia